Celebrating our health heroes

National Skills Academy for Health director Candace Miller explains how it supports and celebrates healthcare support workers

Support workers play a vital role in our healthcare system. Around 780,000 support workers are responsible for an estimated 60% of direct contact with patients, as well as making sure that hospitals and healthcare practices around the UK run efficiently and effectively.

Their roles range from healthcare assistants, to assistant practitioners and porters, to medical administrators, to cleaners, caterers and maintenance staff.

They may keep the cogs of our healthcare system turning, but these staff often go unnoticed and they haven’t benefited from the same level of investment in learning and development opportunities as their medical and registered colleagues.

To help redress the balance, the National Skills Academy for Health and Skills for Health recently launched a new campaign called #OurHealthHeroes.

It aims to raise awareness of the essential and valuable work that support workers do on a daily basis. In its first week alone, it reached three million people on Twitter.

We want to ensure that every support worker is recognised and valued for the skills they have, as well as being encouraged and enabled to develop the skills they want and need.

We work with employers, staff and partner organisations to ensure healthcare support workers have every opportunity to achieve their potential and get the recognition they so clearly deserve.

Recent research from Skills for Health highlights how, with good planning, and with the support of colleagues and line managers, support workers can extend their activities, improve patients’ experience and relieve pressures on registered colleagues.

But to realise those benefits, training for support workers needs to be more easily accessible and more work is needed to provide opportunities for support workers to progress their careers and keep their skills up-to-date.

That’s why, last year, the academy launched its first five excellence centres to help healthcare organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors address these issues.

These bring together employers, training providers and other stakeholders to design and deliver new learning resources for healthcare support staff, share training expertise and make best use of skills development facilities.

The quality of learning and development is obviously important and the academy promotes high-quality training provision through the Skills for Health quality mark scheme.

We run webinars throughout the year on a variety of health and skills-related topics. Our programme for the first half of 2016 includes webinars on themes such communication, dementia and skills for competent care.

Anyone can register to listen in on a webinar. We operate on a not-for-profit basis: many webinars are free and, where we do have to charge for access, our charges are kept as low as we can.